Shoulder pain

You can usually do things to ease shoulder pain yourself. See a GP if it does not start feeling better after 2 weeks.

How to ease shoulder pain yourself

You usually need to do these things for 2 weeks before shoulder pain starts to ease.

It can take 4 to 6 weeks to recover fully from mild shoulder pain.

Do

  • stay active and gently move your shoulder
  • try exercises for shoulder pain – do them for 6 to 8 weeks to stop pain returning
  • stand up straight with your shoulders gently back
  • sit with a cushion behind your lower back
  • rest your arm on a cushion in your lap
  • use pain relief so you can keep moving – try painkillers like paracetamol and ibuprofen, and heat or cold packs

Don't

  • do not completely stop using your shoulder – this can stop it getting better
  • do not do things that seem to make it worse
  • do not make up your own strenuous exercises or use heavy gym equipment
  • do not slouch when sitting – do not roll your shoulders or bring your neck forward
Putting heat or cold packs on your shoulder 

Try either a:

  • pack of frozen peas in a tea towel for 5 minutes, 3 times a day
  • hot water bottle in a tea towel for 20 minutes, 2 to 3 times a day

A pharmacist can help with shoulder pain

A pharmacist can suggest:

  • the best painkiller – this might be tablets, or a cream or gel you rub on the skin
  • other ideas for pain relief and things you can buy to help, like heat and cold packs
  • seeing a GP if you need to

See a GP if:

  • the pain does not improve after 2 weeks
  • it's very difficult to move your arm or shoulder
  • the pain started after an injury or accident, like a fall

Treatment from a GP

A GP will examine you to work out what's causing your shoulder pain.

They might send you for tests (such as an X-ray) to check the cause.

They'll suggest a treatment based on the cause, for example:

  • stronger medication or injections to ease pain and swelling
  • physiotherapy or exercises to do at home
  • things to avoid to stop the pain getting worse or returning
  • seeing a specialist for tests or treatment

Causes of shoulder pain

Shoulder pain that does not improve after 2 weeks might be caused by something that needs treatment.

Do not self-diagnose – see a GP if you're worried.

Shoulder symptoms Possible causes
Pain and stiffness that does not go away over months or years frozen shoulder, arthritis (osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis)
Pain that's often worse while using your arm or shoulder tendonitis, bursitis, impingement
Tingling, numb, weak, feels like it's clicking or locking shoulder instability, sometimes because of hypermobility
Sudden very bad pain, cannot move your arm (or it's difficult), sometimes changes shape dislocated shoulder, broken bone (such as the upper arm or collarbone), torn or ruptured tendon
Pain on top of the shoulder (where the collarbone and shoulder joint meet) problems in the acromioclavicular joint, like dislocation or stretched or torn ligaments
[Last reviewed 2017-07-04]